When Jeff Luhnow took over as GM of the Houston Astros in December 2011, the organization was in such a lowly state that most of the moves he made were low risk. Fan expectations were that he would continue the actions made under former GM Ed Wade and turn veteran assets into young and controllable assets and prospects. The team had just completed a franchise worst (at the time) 56-106 season and were just starting to crawl off the bottom of the major league heap for minor league systems. Expectations for the major league team were nil, and everyone knew that better performance would be down the line based on the direction they were taking.
Well, 3+ years later, we are certainly down the line, and the expectations are no longer nil. The moves made by Jeff Luhnow in the last calendar year are now being scrutinized on a much shorter calendar scale, and the risks in making them are that much higher. So, this post will list the major, risky moves made by Luhnow since this time last season and rate them from most risky on down.
#1. The 1-1 Draft Fiasco
The Astros took the risky path of spending a first overall draft pick on a high school pitcher. Then after finally doing a medical exam on him they took the bigger risk of low-balling him on their offer and basically ended up losing Brady Aiken and fellow draftee Jacob Nix and eventually an unspecified but large settlement to Nix. Luhnow likely decided he would rather take a shot at the second overall pick this season than being stuck with Aiken who, he believes, will apparently have his arm separate from his body any day now.
Risks. That the Astros FO reputation will worsen, that their ability to sign high schoolers will be hurt, that Aiken and/or Nix will become top-notch players, that Carlos Rodon (who they did not draft 1-1) will be a stud, that the player they draft with the 1-2 this season will be a dud.
#2. The Pitching trade-aways
Going back to the Jordan Lyles trade (which was a little more than a year ago) – the Astros have traded away 4 young pitching prospects, including Lyles, Jarred Cosart, Michael Foltynewicz and Nick Tropeano. Considering the team had been so bereft of high minors pitching talent a few years ago that they had to rush 20-year-old Lyles to the majors, this either showed a lot of confidence in their minor league system or little confidence in players that Ed Wade drafted or acquired.
Risks. That the Astros do not have enough high minors pitching talent if faced with injuries at the major league level, that the pitchers sliding up from the lower minors are lesser pitchers than those given away, that some or all of the pitchers traded will become solid or better major league contributors.
#3. The full of “Bull” pen
The biggest failure of the last two seasons for the Astros has been a terrible bullpen. Luhnow addressed this last off-season by acquiring 3 established relievers, who were not closers (Chad Qualls, Jesse Crain, Matt Albers), which brought some improvement to the closer role (Qualls), but little improvement to the rest of the pen with Crain out all season and Albers out after a cameo appearance. This off-season, Luhnow threw $37 million over 3 seasons at Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek – both very good non-closers. The team needs a reliable bullpen, but Luhnow has taken a big risk by not bringing in an established closer.
Risks. That no one steps into the closer role and therefore the rest of the pen is in flux, that the injury bug hits again, that Neshek and Gregerson melt under the bigger expectations of bigger money.
#4. The hot seat shift
Jeff Luhnow hand-picked Bo Porter to be his first manager choice after living with Brad Mills for a season. Then after a little less than 2 seasons, he sets Bo Porter out at the curb for reasons that seem to have to do with not getting along with the GM. Luhnow has gone through 2 managers in 3 seasons (not counting the interim Tom Lawless at the end of last season and Tony DeFrancesco at the end of 2012). At some point Jim Crane has to wonder…
Risks. That Luhnow himself has to be the next in line for the hot seat – perhaps by the end of 2015, if there are any more huge missteps.
Those are 4 top risks for Jeff Luhnow going forward. What do you think of the order of them and would you add any to the list?